Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 1

"Playoffs?  Playoffs?!?!" (Photo credit: NFL.com)

“Playoffs? Playoffs?!?!”
(Photo credit: NFL.com)

Setting the stage:

The Timberwolves are back in action in meaningful, regular season games!  The world is a better place, right?  We know what this team did over the course of the offseason and we know what the final roster looks like now.  Finally, now you know what the Timberpups.com preview is going to look like.  We’re thinking about previewing the week ahead every Sunday/Monday vs. doing a preview for every single game.  While we will look to continue last season’s co-authoring of previews with blogs from the opposition from time to time, this is where we have netted out … for now at least.  (That’s quite a bit of waffling in case you couldn’t connect the dots.)

It looks like the final roster is set, now that the Wolves have cut Jeffers and Brown, and are apparently willing to eat the remaining money on Chris Johnson’s contract (thanks again Kahn!).  Congrats to the guys that were on the cusp and wound up making the team!

Let’s look ahead to this coming week!  Week 1 of the regular season has the Pups home for the first two games of the season before going on the road to the World’s Most Famous Arena.  In what may be the biggest surprise, the season opener is NOT against the Kings, who we seem to have opened up against for the past ten seasons.  Here is a quick rundown of the week ahead, along with some thoughts and predictions.

Game 1: Wednesday, 10/30, 7pm – Orlando Magic @ Timberwolves (TV: FS North)

The Magic are not going to be very good this season, this much is known.  However, they do have an intriguing backcourt rotation that might give the Wolves a little bit of trouble.  Between Jameer Nelson, Victor Oladipo, and Arron Afflalo, the Wolves guards might need to get ready for a physical game.  However, there is nothing on the front line that compares to Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic.

Opponent to watch:

Victor Oladipo – No surprise here, we get to watch the player Flip was rumored to be enamored with going into the 2013 draft.  (I will not write any more about this … I will not write any more about this!)  We’ll see how much run Oladipo gets in his debut and it will be interesting to see how he can defend against someone like Kevin Martin, who I imagine will be running around in circles trying to lose and confuse the rookie.

Predictions:

This should be a relatively easy “W” for the Pups, with the home crowd amped for the season opener and an inferior opponent on paper.  Final score: Timberwolves 104, Magic 88

Game 2: Friday, 11/1, 7pm – Oklahoma City Thunder @ Timberwolves (TV: FS North)

The Wolves catch a little bit of a break here with the OKC Thunder coming to town.  Why?  For one, Russell Westbrook’s injury will be keeping him out of the lineup for a while.  Second, the Thunder open up on Wednesday night in Utah, so Friday’s game in Minnesota will be the end of short road trip for the team before heading back to Oklahoma for their home opener on Sunday.  There is some potential here to jump on an opponent that is looking ahead (and likely coming off an opening night win against the Jazz).

Opponent to watch:

Kevin Durant – Does this even need to be said?  A top three talent in the league and he will likely be hoisting up 25 shots a night without Westbrook.  Let’s hope he isn’t ‘en fuego’ in Minnesota.  While you will all be rooting for the Wolves, take a second to enjoy Durant’s game.

Predictions:

For the reasons mentioned above, I’m going to give this one to the Wolves as well.  With or without the star players, the games against OKC always seem to be highly entertaining.  Get your popcorn ready!  Final score: Timberwolves 108, Thunder 102

Game 3: Sunday, 11/3, 6:30pm – Timberwolves @ New York Knicks (TV: FSN Plus)

The Pups’ first road game of the season takes them to Madison Square Garden to face the Knicks.  I decided to not buy tickets to this game and will enjoy it from the couch.  I really do not think the Knicks are going to be very good … at all.  However, they will enter this game with two full days rest, having not played since Thursday night.

Opponent to watch:

Andreas Bargnani – I’m interested in seeing how Bargnani meshes with the Knicks.  The team’s big offseason deal made the team that much worse defensively and this might lead to a Mike Woodson meltdown at any point.  For the record, I really do not think the Knicks are going to be very good.  Did I mention this already?

Predictions:

I am a big believer in teams coming off of rest, but the Wolves aren’t playing on back to back nights.  So even with the extra rest, I think Minnesota has a lot more talent than New York and will pull this one out.  Would I be shocked to see the Pups drop this one?  Not at all.  However, until they lose, I’m going to predict all W’s.  Final score: Timberwolves 105, Knicks 91

It is good to be back in the saddle of another Timberwolves’ season!  What are you most excited for as the season gets underway?  I really want to see Rubio make the leap this season and climb his way up the ranks of NBA point guards.  The team needs this to happen in order to become legitimate contenders somewhere down the line.

“Playoffs?  Playoffs?!?!?”  Yes Jim, the Pups begin their quest to get back the playoffs and I see a sharp 3-0 start!

Let’s go Wolves!

2013/2014 Eastern Conference Preview

 

It has been the Heat's Conference recently, does that change in 2014?

It has been the Heat’s Conference recently, does that change in 2014?

 

Last week we previewed the (stacked) Western Conference and now it is time to tackle the East.  The Miami Heat look to make it not one, not two, but three conference championships in a row.  Can they do it?  Who can rise to the occasion?  Who is at the bottom of the barrel?  Let’s start there …

15. Philadelphia 76ers: I find it glorious that for David Stern’s final season, there is a team with enough charisma to say, “Here we are … tanking in all its glory” from the day the draft took place all the way through the trading deadline.  Where will Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young wind up?  I’m not sure they care, as long as it is out of Philly.  While I like what Philly did on draft night acquiring Noel and MCW, there is no hope for this team in 2013/14.  Zero.  Zilch.

14. Orlando Magic: Victor Oladipo is very likely going to be a very good NBA player, but this team lacks talent across its frontcourt.  If they can find a taker for Jameer Nelson during the season, they might give the Sixers a run for their money on ping pong balls.

13. Cleveland Cavaliers: Dan Gilbert wants this team in the playoffs, yet continues to do the strangest things on draft night.  I love Kyrie Irving, I just wish he played almost anywhere else in the league.  Cavs fans have to hope that Michael Bennett doesn’t eat himself out of the league (not a ringing endorsement for the #1 pick of the draft) and rely on getting something from Andrew Bynum and/or Anderson Varejao.  This isn’t going to end well.

12. Boston Celtics: The Celtics are rebuilding but I can’t put them any lower than this, given what you just read.  In fact, I actually wanted to put them a little bit higher, but figure this seems about right if Danny Ainge wakes up one day and says, “You know what, we are too good to get enough ping pong balls, Rondo needs to go”.  Rajon Rondo and the supporting cast (Jeff Green, Courtney Lee) are good enough to stay ahead of the prior three teams.

11. Charlotte Bobcats: On paper, this is a pretty intriguing team that you might want to keep an eye on, but then you remember it is the Bobcats.  They have a serviceable rotation of guards, signed Big Al Jefferson, and I love MKG.  Then I remember that they are the Bobcats and just drafted Cody Zeller at #4 ahead of a handful of others that would have been a nice fit.  Would the real Bismack Biyombo please stand up this season?

10. Detroit Pistons: This is going to be fun, right?  Right?!  Chauncey Billups returning to Detroit and trying to lead the Pistons with Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith, and Andre Drummond.  At what point does Billups flat out retire?  It would be great if he just walked out of the locker room at halftime to never come back.  This is where we start thinking about teams that could sneak their way into the Eastern Conference playoffs … with 35 wins.

9. Toronto Raptors: Another team that is intriguing on paper and then you give yourself a reality check on second glance.  Do you want Kyle Lowry as your starting PG?  Is DeMar DeRozan ever going to turn it on?  How much of a leap is Jonas Valanciunas really going to make in one year?  Is Rudy Gay just going to shoot 33% from the field this year on 1,500 shots?  Sorry, no playoffs for this franchise.

PLAYOFF TEAMS                                                                                                                               

8. Washington Wizards: Relying on the health of an already injured Emeka Okafor may not be the wisest strategy, but there is too much talent here to not make the playoffs in the East.  John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. (another great pick from the Wizards front office?), and enough able bodies for big men.  If you go to their second unit, you have some defensive studs as well with Singleton and Ariza on the wing.  This could be a team to keep an eye on and is already on my League Pass watch-list.

7. Milwaukee Bucks: Every year I get sucked in and every year there is disappointment.  Where OJ Mayo goes, so does some bizarre allegiance to overrate the team he’s playing on.  That bus landed in Milwaukee this year.  I like their big men as a group, but not any particular individual.  You have ex-Wolf Luke Ridnour and Brandon Knight as the PG’s and Gary Neal as the fourth wheel in the backcourt.  It will be interesting to see what they get out of the SF position where the Bucks have two wily veterans in Caron Butler and Carlos Delfino.  This roster is good enough to make the playoffs.  (Until it isn’t)

6. New York Knicks: Look at how the NY Giants football season is going and that is what I would like to predict for the Knicks.  However, they have too much talent for the Eastern Conference to go any lower than this.  They will play .500 ball and get into the playoffs with ease.  Here’s what I like about the team: Tyson Chandler, from a few years ago.  That’s it.  There is nothing on this roster that I like.  Despite his gaudy numbers, there is virtually nothing Carmelo can do to not make me believe that he is an underachiever; outside of taking less than max money in his next contract and deferring to another star in order to win a championship.

5. Atlanta Hawks: This is my Eastern Conference “I have no idea where to put this team, so they are going here”.  I cannot give a team home court advantage in round 1 of the playoffs if that is my general feeling towards the team, so they land at #5.  Love the Paul Millsap and Al Horford combination, like Jeff Teague, but have no idea what to think of their rotation of wings.  The Hawks’ wings really just need to fill roles though, right?  That should be good enough for a .500+ record and another trip to the postseason, only to be quickly disposed by the …

4. Chicago Bulls: We’ll get to this when we go through the playoff brackets later, but I see the Bulls coasting through the regular season, monitoring Derrick Rose’s minutes, resting him occasionally, etc. This team is tough as nails and will do what is necessary to get to right around the 50 win mark.  It won’t be pretty, we won’t enjoy it when they beat up the Wolves in the paint, but this team will get it done.

3. Brooklyn Nets: Prokhorov’s tax bill is “a bit” much, but you have to love an owner that is willing to spend any and all money possible to put together a championship contender.  Unfortunately for the Nets, there are too many stronger teams that will grind this team out of the playoffs at some point.  Deron Williams has a lot to prove and I see this team putting together a very strong regular season due to all of the veterans in the locker room.

Best of luck to KG in Brooklyn and a big “kudos” for the Big Ticket in wearing the #2 jersey with the Nets – in memory of Malik Sealy.  I might have to drag myself to the Barclay’s Center to see KG one last time in person.

2. Indiana Pacers: The country finally got to see who Paul George was and what this Pacers roster is all about in last year’s playoffs.  I don’t expect them to digress whatsoever.  In fact, if Danny Granger can stay healthy and Luis Scola provides quality backup minutes at the PF/C spots, this team is very, very dangerous.  Quite honestly, I love this team.

(You didn’t think I would talk about the Pacers and not mention David Kahn’s selection of Wesley Johnson over Paul George, did you?  The worst lottery pick the franchise has ever made.  The worst … and the bar is pretty ‘high’ for that proclamation.  THE WORST!  Let’s move on before my blood pressure pills start wearing off …)

1. Miami Heat: The Heat won something like 75 games in a row (it was 27) last season and the NBA Championship.  You know the story and the cast of characters.  Until someone knocks them off the pedestal, it is hard to place them anywhere else.

Which brings us to the playoffs, based on the seeds above.  Here is how I see the Eastern Conference Playoffs unfolding:

Eastern Conference

The top four teams in the East are light-years ahead of the rest of the conference, so they should all advance pretty easily out of the first round – unless you like the Knicks.  Then things get very interesting.  As mentioned above, I think the Bulls take it “easy” in the regular season a bit but knock out the defending champs, which sets up a close to epic battle against the Pacers.  I simply believe it is the Pacers time.

The early exit for the Heat leads to about 15 million stories and rumors about LeBron heading back to Cleveland, to the Lakers, etc. etc.  That’s going to be a lot of fun!

What do you think?  Is it too early to dethrone the Heat?  Do they have another trophy coming?  What are your surprise or disappointment teams in the conference?  Let us know below!

Checking in on Derrick Williams

Associated Press

Associated Press

This summer, Derrick Williams has passed his time by starting the #DwillSneakerHunt and it continued Tuesday as he went about hiding hot styles of sneakers around the greater Los Angeles area. Why hide them? So the kids following him on Twitter and Instagram can race to find a new pair of kicks. After all, school is just around the corner. Along with his playful act of charity, Williams has also spent time this summer promoting his clothing store, VII Grand, which opened in February and is located in Tucson, Arizona. When Williams isn’t in Tucson overseeing operations, he’s on the phone almost daily with close friend and store manager Mario Escalente. At age 22, it’s obvious Williams has already spent a lot of effort promoting himself as an entrepreneur, but what has he been doing this offseason to improve himself as a basketball player? After two seasons in the NBA Williams should have developed a more formidable identity in the league by now, right? So far, this hasn’t exactly been the case, although he still has time to prove to the Timberwolves and the rest of the NBA that he was worthy of the second overall selection nearly two years ago.

Williams’ identity crisis begins with his stature, currently listed at 6’8’’ and 241 pounds and perfectly fitting the mold as a “tweener” forward. As he stands right now, he has too much bulk while lacking the proper handles that are necessary in order to have sustained success as a small forward. Contributing to his dilemma, he lacks the height, length and refined post game that is necessary to be an effective power forward. During his time playing for Arizona, Williams used his size as an advantage. He found success by dragging bigger and slower defenders away from the basket which allowed him space away from his opponent. From there, he greatly relied on his athleticism to make up for the fact that he was and is still not a great dribbler. When opposing bigs left Williams open on the perimeter, he punished them by shooting a blistering 56.8% from three during his final season. If opponents tried to stop Williams by assigning him smaller and quicker defenders, he muscled his way inside for an easy layup or dunk, which he converted at a high rate. One of the most notable discrepancies between his success in college and the NBA has been his increased difficulty finishing around the rim, as he continues to face much bigger frontcourts than he previously saw in the Pac-12.

Williams’ progression from his rookie to second season can be attributed to his increased playing time under Coach Adelman. It’s important to assess how players respond to increased minutes, and in Williams’ second season he appeared in 12 more games while playing 498 more minutes than during his rookie season. Now, this is largely a result of the high frequency of injuries that the Wolves roster was hit by last year, especially in the frontcourt. Nonetheless, he was able to improve in every offensive statistical category, as depicted by this graphic:

Derrick Williams totals

The statistic that jumps out to me the most is his significant improvement shooting from 3pt range. Williams made 28 more three-pointers last season than he did during his rookie season and improved by a total of 6.4% on 58 more attempts. After being dubbed as one of the top perimeter shooters in the 2011 Draft, it was a disappointment seeing Derrick struggle so mightily in his rookie season. However, it is clear that he has made shooting one of his priorities last summer as was quietly the second best three-point shooter on the team only behind J.J. Barea.

Williams currently finds himself in a tough spot on the depth chart and in Adelman’s rotation. I can only speculate that he will see most of his time on the floor splitting minutes with fellow SF/PF Dante Cunningham as Kevin Love‘s backup. Cunningham understands his role and has Coach Adelman’s trust as a proven role player.

The center position is occupied by incumbent starter Nikola Pekovic - assuming he re-signs – and rookie Gorgui Dieng and there is currently an abundance of players at the two wing positions. Corey Brewer, Chase Budinger, Shabazz Muhammad, Alexey Shved and Kevin Martin will all share time on the wing, with Adelman likely going with a hot-hand on a nightly basis. I touched a bit recently on the starting lineups we could see this season and, unsuprisingly, none of them featured Williams. However, in situations where the Wolves potentially play small by inserting Love at center, Williams could man the power forward spot as he is a respectable rebounder.

It’s only fair I expose my bias: I am a fan of the University of Arizona and have been for a long time. I remember being excited about Loren Woods (yes, Loren Woods) joining the team in the early 2000’s. It’s just one of the reasons I loved bringing in and retaining Budinger. Williams is a Wildcat and I want to see him do well.

Lucy Nicholson/Rueters

Lucy Nicholson/Rueters

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Evan Turner, Hasheem Thabeet, Michael Beasley and Williams were all taken with the No. 2 overall selection dating back to 2008 draft. This year it was Victor Oladipo out of the University of Indiana. If I’m building a team and have these players to select from, I would choose Williams with little hesitation. Beasley has obviously had his chances, Oladipo hasn’t played a minute as a pro, and last season as I compared D-Will to Evan Turner the numbers show that Williams has made more out of his time in the league than the former Ohio State Buckeye. I believe that Williams has outperformed the previously mentioned names taken with the same selection, granted that each player’s situation has been different.

Williams has been labeled a bust by some thus far into his short career and has been the constant subject of trade rumors since coming to Minnesota, however in my opinion he has not received a fair opportunity to demonstrate how valuable he can be to this team. Although his roots stem from the southwest, he has not once spoken against playing in Minnesota. He has a positive attitude and doesn’t shy away from interacting with fans, on and away from the camera. In my opinion, Derrick will need a more defined role in order for him to be able to succeed going forward.

This season should be the most crucial one to Williams’ young career. With the depth that currently surrounds him, he will need to earn the trust of his coach and teammates in order to get consistent minutes on a nightly basis. The chances of his name resurfacing in trade rumors around the deadline are a possibility as the Wolves could look to move him for a player with a more defined skill set or even a future draft selection. Regardless of what happens, I believe that Williams will become a mainstay in the league as long as he remains healthy and shows incremental improvement every season. If it isn’t meant to be with the Timberpups, it’s only a part of the business, but as long as he is here he will be important to the development of the Pups as a team.

The Timberwolves Newest Polarizing Player: Shabazz Muhammad

Shabazz Muhammad, 20, is one of the newest draft day additions for the Minnesota Timberwolves. How will the one-and-done swingman from UCLA fare as a role player for the Timberwolves?

Shabazz Muhammad, 20, is one of the newest draft day additions for the Minnesota Timberwolves. How will the one-and-done swingman from UCLA fare as a role player for the Timberwolves?

Following rumors that the Timberwolves were aggressively attempting to move up in Thursday’s 2013 NBA draft in hopes of selecting one of the draft’s premier shooting guards which included Indiana’s Victor Oladipo, Kansas’s Ben McLemore and Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the Wolves found themselves out of luck when it came time for the 9th pick as all three prized shooting guards were off the board.

C.J. McCollum, the highly-touted 6-foot-3 PG/SG of Lehigh State, was apparently not on Flip Saunders’ radar as he ultimately passed up the scoring combo guard and instead took what he saw as the best talent available in point guard Trey Burke, despite  having no intention of keeping him. Flip immediately shipped the Michigan standout to the Utah Jazz in exchange for the 14th and 21st overall picks, despite already having the 26th pick received in a trade made last season with Memphis. Larry Fitzgerald Sr. had this to say about the move: [Read more...]

What Will the Timberwolves Do With the 9th Pick?

GREGORY SHAMUS/GETTY IMAGES

GREGORY SHAMUS/GETTY IMAGES

Representing the Timberwolves at the 2013 NBA Draft Lottery was Kevin Love, carrying a Ricky Rubio #9 action figure as his lucky charm. However, the Wolves failed to beat the slim odds of moving up and officially own the 9th overall selection in the upcoming 2013 NBA Draft. The news came as no shocker given that Minnesota only had about a 6% chance of moving up into the top 3, while having almost an 82% chance of staying put at their original position.

With new management taking over – led by former Timberwolves president and coach Flip Saunders – it will be imperative for the new boss to make his mark by erasing the infamous legacy of poor drafting left behind by David Kahn. While Saunders has discussed in the media that he is open to discussing trades for the 9th and 26th selections – whether to move up in the draft or to acquire a veteran – it remains to be seen what Minnesota’s course of action will be under the new regime.

Barring any serious injuries, the Timberwolves expect to have a fully healthy roster by the time training camp arrives. With the probable starting lineup of Rubio-Ridnour-Kirilenko-Love-Pekovic returning, the glaring need for a shooting guard will be the top priority to be addressed either through the draft or in free agency. [Read more...]